Provided by Mercedes Lopez-Raul from Visit Talithia
“Be authentic,” they say.
“Be true to yourself,” the wise ones counsel.
“But be like us,” you hear.
“Don’t stand out,” they reinforce with every action.
“We fear your crazy wildness,” say their outraged faces.
“Fit into a box where we can label you.”
My normal is not your normal. I want you to be free to be like me, without needing to be like me. My normal is at times dark and kinky; the details may not be to your taste and that’s fine, because I don’t need you to be like me to feel secure. Live your own normal, however that looks and feels, and let us be alike only in having the courage to embrace our normals.
The hidden pain
To live a lie, to act the part of someone you are not, places unbearable strain on the psyche. The fear of being found out, uncovered as an impostor, fraud or freak, battles to suppress the urge for self-expression. Your simple desire to act in a way true to your heart becomes a twisted and stunted version of you, locked away possibly forever.
But those desires don’t die. They scream out for attention and release. At times through reckless risk-taking, secretly finding an outlet for pent-up passions. At others through becoming embittered, blaming the world and those around you for every lost opportunity.
How I knew I was different
We live apart from each other, locked away in our bodies, trapped by the inadequacy of communication. As a child I dreamed of telepathy, of communication that flowed from mind to mind, from heart to heart. I devoured stories by John Wyndham because in his creations deep communication was possible and that was the only way I could imagine being understood. And that was before I knew I was kinky, that was the simple desire of a child to be loved unconditionally.
Then the urges started. Games I would play in the privacy of my bedroom, characters and scenes I identified with even though it was wrong, people I craved to be.
All the other girls my age were soft and simpering things who liked dolls and ponies. Cute. Pink. Ringlets. Princesses and unicorns.
I liked witches. The fiercer and colder the better. I knew it was wrong, because all the “good” characters, the heroes and heroines, always won in the end. We were supposed to boo and jeer when my role models entered.
In vain I sought elsewhere, but found only shrill little madams like Violet Elizabeth in the Just William stories or tomboys like George of the Famous Five. None of them resonated in the way of the remote and all-powerful wicked queens.
Those were the hints. Enough to know there was something in me that was wrong and needed to be locked away. I knew I was different and I knew it was something I needed to hide. Difference was dangerous. Difference was criticism. Difference was a cold and lonely place.
Princes were brave and strong, and princesses threw themselves at them. Girls had to be soft and loving, and if they stepped out of line they were to be slapped and then kissed firmly. That was the truth that was shared all around, and I grew up knowing that if I wanted to fit in, to be loved and to find a sexual partner, that is how I was expected to be.
Unbowed but uncertain
I never wanted to compromise myself and that made life difficult. I couldn’t confide in anyone, in part because my thoughts were so nebulous that I couldn’t define how I was different, just that I didn’t want to be the same as everyone else. Oh, but how I wanted them to be like me!
My thoughts were so contradictory: I felt right in myself but “knew” I was wrong in the eyes of everyone else. I didn’t feel the need to change, I just wanted to feel safe and accepted for who and how I was.
I was tied up in knots (which in itself has an amusing irony, because I would rather have been tying other people up!), feeling like I was protecting the world from me, like there was something big and scary trying to break out from inside that would have burned the eyes of onlookers.
The tipping point
After a chaotic first term at university I took some time out to think about who I wanted to be and how I could express that through my appearance. I traded in sloganed t-shirts for tailored blouses, jeans for figure-hugging skirts, and discovered a passion for leather boots.
The more I dressed the part of a strict and disciplined person, the easier it was to express that side of my nature. Instead of seeming a sullen or bookish teenager, I became aloof and imperious.
The revelation to me was that although my manner held many people at bay, for others it was a serious magnet. I went from lonely girl to woman in demand. Mostly my suitors were older, though a few puppy-boys fell at my feet without really understanding what they wanted or knowing what they might be in for.
Fortunately, some of the older guys were a lot more certain of what they wanted, and willing to let me fool around as I learned how to dominate them and control their desires.
Finding a tribe
There are two essential steps to becoming comfortable with your own normal, though the order will vary.
For me, the first was self-acceptance. Let go any personal shame and quietly acknowledge, “This is who I am.”
The second was finding a tribe, people who thought and acted in ways complementary to mine.
Many people search out the tribe first, seeking self-acceptance through the approval of others, and exploring different identities. This can lead to trying on a series of skins until you find out exactly where you fit.
Humans are tribal creatures, conditioned over millennia to react against differences between groups and encourage similarity within groups. We find identity by separation from “the others”, sometimes going to great lengths with appearance and lifestyle to create a visible identity. Fear of isolation drives conformity: if your survival is tied up with the success of the tribe, you need to work to retain your place, and if that means modifying yourself to seem more like them, that’s a price we sometimes choose to pay.
When I argued against wearing a school uniform, one of the counter-arguments from adults was that, given the choice, the pupils would all dress identically just in jeans and a t-shirt. The point they missed, whether wilfully or not, is that the control was what was important to us, making our own decisions about how to show which tribe was ours.
Once I began displaying outward signs of my preferences, I started to draw people to me. Anyone from men starting reverent conversations about my footwear to female friends insisting I set the agenda for our nights out. One of the most electrifying moments of my university days was taking a small group to a sex shop for a giggle, and gently placing a fabric cuff around a friend’s wrist. As the velcro stuck in place and I gave a playful tug to the strap, the air between us crackled.
In my professional life since leaving university I have honed my ability to read people’s reactions to me. Some consider me nothing more than a strident and opinionated woman, but I get noticed and listened to. I can hold my own in a discussion and I speak with authority.
The more interesting people are those whose breath catches in their throat when I raise my voice, whose eyes widen and nostrils flare when I give an order. When I spot that look of excitement and deference, then I know we are going to have a fulfilling and productive working relationship. And if I have to threaten putting someone over my knee every so often just to see him swallow and jump to it, well then we’ve both gained a little job satisfaction and happiness in an otherwise cruel world.
The more I have opened my mind, the more receptive I am to the subtle signs and unconscious signals others use, that betray people’s inner desires. Before I was able to start on that journey, I had to transmit my own signals.
The stranger you think you are, the stronger the need someone else will have to connect with you. You are not strange, you are unique. Your differences create mystique and allure. You are not the same as everyone else. Celebrate it. Define your own normal.